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Ionic Column in exile

December 1998

by David Parry

Englishman David Parry lived in Tokyo from 1980 to 1994 and was a member of TPC from 1986. Currently based in Düsseldorf and working as a translator, he returns to Japan electronically via the Internet. A frequent contributor to this publication, he was Newsletter Publisher from late 1988 to early 1990 and began the Ionic Column in 1992. For reasons best known to readers, this column even won a prize and an honorable mention...


This may just be a first in all the years of writing the Ionic Column. For the very first time I have remembered to include a reference to Christmas and the New Year. Somehow November does not feel like Christmas, whereas things change suddenly once the calendar flips over to the last page. And I really ought to be reminded of the festive season here in Germany, because Christmas articles appeared in the shops at the end of October. Talk of marketing overkill.

At times I thought the Japanese took Christmas a little too seriously, from the merchandising point of view at least. Surreal touches such as dressing up the statue of plantation-suited Colonel Sanders as father Christmas and parking him outside the door of the local "Kentucky Fried Chicken" outlet added a certain je ne sais quoi, if only because I cannot figure out what I felt and thought when I saw it. Proof of an afterlife, perhaps?

Program of the year

Taking a look back at 1998, it was most clearly the year of ... < drum roll> ... Windows 98. These days the software releases come further apart, so it took a full three years for it to arrive after the much ballyhooed Windows 95. It too spent many moons in beta form while the bugs were squashed — and new ones crept in. I had only a brief acquaintance of a few months with Windows 1995, since I only bought it at the beginning of this year and upgraded it in the summer when its successor came out in July.

It was described as a largely incremental upgrade by reviewers, incorporating many of the updates and improvements already included in the last versions of Windows 95. Among the very few truly new features, there is support for USB devices and for multiple monitors. I have a Microsoft Sidewinder joystick to install when I have some time, and I have already downloaded the latest USB driver from the Microsoft BBS.

Some programs and hardware drivers seem to have had problems with Windows 98, but on the whole I have not had problems that I can definitely pin down to driver incompatibility. Office 97 is another matter altogether, and here I have encountered a certain amount of weirdness that is probably intrinsic to that program.

Would I recommend getting Windows 98? Not if your Windows 95 system is running acceptably. Should you get it if you are still using Windows 3.1? A cautious yes, insofar as Windows 98 is a bit more stable than Windows 95, but not to an extent that inspires confidence. The caveat is that Windows NT 5.0 is due out within about six months, and I plan to get that as soon as it is out. Why?

The end of the line

There is not going to be a Windows 99 or Windows 2000, and Windows programs are now designed to run with everything from 95 to NT. The main effort is being put on Windows NT, which I think will be a much better program for business users, but it will have to be much simpler than older versions of NT for it to be used on a wide scale, judging by reports I have had from users of NT 3.51 and 4.0. My biggest gripe about Windows 98 is that it has still not addressed the issue of stability and reliability. At times I start feeling very nostalgic for MS-DOS.

My initial installation of Windows 95 gave endless trouble, and I had to install Norton Utilities to get the thing to run for long. And another caveat: at least one message to me on a Tokyo BBS advised against using this program. Peter Norton sold out years ago, and the products marketed by Symantec bear his name but not his penchant for quality. Currently I use Nuts and Bolts from McAfee, which also includes their anti-virus programs and a basic version of the encryption program Pretty Good Privacy in addition to the usual disk and system utilities. The disk utilities find all sorts of problems, including those related to long filenames, with depressing rapidity. It makes me wonder if the hard disk is failing, but all my disk utilities give my IBM platters a clean bill of health and they are quite new anyway.

Unwanted guests, part one

Getting rid of unwanted programs used to be easy under MS-DOS. Deleting the files was just a matter of DEL *.* <Enter>. Under Windows 3.1 things got tougher, since Windows remembers where things used to be and complains if you delete files. The various uninstaller programs got rid of the cross-references and most of the files, and in bad cases you could always look for a suspicious line in WIN.INI or SYSTEM.INI and just chop it out. Life is not so simple with Windows 95 and 98. You have the Registry to contend with.

Norton Utilities did not make itself known to the Add/Remove programs section in Control Panel, and it did not appear to come with an uninstall option. My old favorite, Microhelp Uninstaller, removed most but not all of the files. Error messages nagged me endlessly on boot-up. Using Nuts and Bolts, I ran a diagnostics check to track down missing files and references. Norton alone produced about 30 errors, which seemed to be repeats of the same file in many cases, and I duly deleted these references. No good. I still get nagged on boot-up. Perhaps I have to install the damn thing again to get rid of it properly?

Unwanted guests, part two

Sometimes I feel that the Registry was invented by a Transylvanian, since it exemplifies the curious state of the undead so beloved of Balkan folklore. No doubt Microsoft brought in a planeload of el cheapo Rumanian programmers to write their software at rock bottom prices, and one of these new arrivals travelled coffin class on a night flight...

The registry makes it hard to remove hardware drivers or demo programs, or anything. Control Panel sports an icon for the Intel network card that I tossed out in favor of a no-name PCI card that has been working just fine, thank you. Assorted programs that I downloaded and tested have left a residue of stranded files and registry references even after what seemed to be a "clean" uninstall. It makes me leery of installing any new program that I absolutely do not need.

Unwanted guests, part three

My last comment is connected with my plans for Christmas shopping. The external Iomega Zip drive that I have is too much trouble. I do not want to have to reconnect the printer all the time, the parallel port interface slows data transfer down to sundial speeds, and the GUEST95 program cannot always locate the Iomega hardware. Then, Windows 98 squeals about device conflicts if you unplug the Zip drive, and the Hardware Wizard explains that the device is missing. Even though the Zip diskettes are small and not all that cheap, I can make use of them to store text and graphics files. The Jaz drive is still not working, and the media are not cheap. I will keep that for major backups only.

The Jaz drive seems to have a hardware fault, so I will try to send it back. If it is to be replaced, I will try to weasel my way into getting a 2 GB internal version. As far as I can see, internal Zip and Jaz drives are recognized as DOS drives and you do not need GUEST95 — the same program works for both types of drive.

The latest in Zip drives appears to be an ATAPI internal version, according to a catalog. This should do fine. As for the SparQ, I read recently that SyQuest is not making backup drives and/or is going into Chapter 11.

Unfinished business

Where is the Microsoft Post Office? The Boomerang PC dictation program needs that to run, but I cannot find it on the Windows 98 or Office 97 CDs. More research is needed.

Finished business?

In recent weeks I have hardly used Windows 3.1, and the only reason I keep it around is to check file compatibility for users of the old version of WinWord 6.0. But I can solve that problem by sending out RTF (Rich Text Format) files anyway. The other issue is that Windows 3.1 refused to work with my Matrox Millennium II video card with 8 MB RAM, whereas I should have no trouble installing it for a Windows 98-only system, as on the other PC, where it installed without a murmur.

Santa, I've been very good

What do I plan to buy around Christmas time? One way and another, there is nothing that I want to buy as a pure self-indulgent luxury. However, one purchase that will be close to the festive season will be a CD-ROM burner. The main reason for holding out is that prices keep dropping almost by the minute, plus I do not have the time to set it up. Against that, I would really like to have archival copies of all my software masters. Insurance notwithstanding, think what it would cost otherwise if there were a fire in the office and I lost the lot. Another use would be archival storage of old data and text files currently on floppies, and magnetic media sometimes go bad with time, whereas a CD-ROM should be stable for decades.

That is all for this month. I wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year — and may your computers work in the way that the manual says they should.

Comments or feedback or more information? Contact me on Compuserve on 100575,2573 (DAParry@compuserve.com) or DAParry@t-online.de or http//www.core-ad.co.jp/parry.


© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

December, 1998

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor


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